Article originally published in the Globe Miami Times, September 5, 2022, written by Deborah Dove
In July, Aja DeZeeuw joined Cobre Valley Institue of Technology (CVIT) as the school's first counselor. DeZeeuw is excited to work with the students in Globe, Hayden, Miami, Ray, San Carlos, and Superior, as well as online and home-schooled students, for whom CVIT provides specialized vocational training - commonly called career and technical education, or CTE.
According to CVIT Superintendent Mike O'Neal, as the COVID pandemic began affecting students, the school realized their students needed additional support services that weren't available to them at the college. Sometimes, these support services weren't available at high schools either, as three of the six high schools CVIT serves don't have a counselor or advisor on staff.
Suddenly as the pandemic's impact grew, students weren't finishing programs and were struggling in the classroom. "We thought we needed to do something to provide the support services our students need to be successful," O'Neal says. "We needed an acadmic and career advisor, but we also needed someone who could connect with kids and help with our students' social and emotional needs. We were blessed Aja applied for the position."
With the addition of DeZeeuw, CVIT hopes to also provide support resources for students at high schools that don't employ a counselor. CVIT also plans to provide overflow mental health support to students through the six-school district. "It's not only a school need, but a community need," says O'Neal.
Guiding students is DeZeeuw's passion. She was in the middle of a successful career in retail marketing and management when her younger brother was killed in a car accident, and Aja decided to change careers. Her family set up a scholarship fund for Superior High students in his honor, and DeZeeuw was reading the essays written by student applicants. It was here she found her calling.
"I wanted to help these kids meet their goals and guide them differently than I was guided in high school," she says. She decided to go back to school and eventually earned two master's degrees, one in psychology and one in school counseling. It was her dream to come back and work in the rural areas near Superior where she grew up, so after interning with the Mesa Public School District, she became the school counselor for Globe High School. Five years later, she joined CVIT.
"I'm really excited the CVIT board and staff recognized the need for a school counselor, particularly one like myself with a mental health background," DeZeeuw says. She feels this kind of support has never been more important, as students are currently experiencing higher than normal levels of anxiety and stress. According to Aja, school counselors generally focus on three areas - academics, career guidance, and social/emotional well-being - because they're all related. For example, if a student is struggling with family issues, it's harder for them to focus at school.
As CVIT's counselor, Aja's biggest goal is to provide students with the opportunity to explore different types of careers and give them a competitive advantage, whether for getting into college or getting hired into a specific field after high school. All of CVIT's programs, books, and supplies are completely free, making it a great way for students to pursue a college eduation, gain amazing skills, and get hands-on experience to determine if a specific career path is right for them.
"It's our duty as educators to help students see the different pathways," Aja says. "Every student should have the opportunity to attend a four-year university if they want to, but it's not for everyone. We need to do a better job of showing them they can have an amazing career - and possibly make more money with less debt - through apprenticeship programs or CTE courses. I want to make sure parents and students are aware of the opportuities and benefits CVIT's programs provide."
To that end, DeZeeuw attends meet-the-teacher nights, hosts CVIT Days for area sophomores to visit the campus and talk to current students, and makes presentations at area high schools. Of course, her impact extends further than career guidance. "When I'm talking to students, I'm also letting them know I'm here to help with their academic, career, and social or emotional needs," she says. Although her physical office is on the CVIT campus, she'll come to a student's home high school or do Zoom meetings as necessary. "I want to be accessible to the students," she says.
DeZeeuw sits on the advocacy board of the Arizona School Counseling Association. She's equally passionate about helping educators understand the value of having a certified counselor on campus and utilizing them correctly. "Our value is when we're with the students . . . teaching them to develop coping skills or stress management techniques, helping them explore career options, or guiding college-bound students through the financial aid process," DeZeeuw says. CVIT is adamant they want me to be involved with the students, which is very exciting for me."
The original article featured in the Globe Miami Times can be found HERE